Thursday, June 14, 2007

California Gold

Last weekend, we were off....thanks to the blog. The mom of the bride thought our attitude towards the President was disgraceful, and cancelled three weeks out. Try getting a June wedding on three weeks notice......this side of Las Vegas. We are low on Elvis impersonators.

So....I was stoked to have a Saturday off. Pressure wash the deck. Finish the glass block wall. Move the fish smoker. Turn the compost. Plant the cardoons. Send bills for last fall's parties? Naaaaa.

Then the phone rang. A nice lady died. The heirs wanted to meet about a wake. Saturday morning in Cachagua.


OK....see you at the store at 10am.

Wakes are a special deal. One can't seem to be to happy the loved one has passed.....or too bummed to ruin the party. You can't put on the dog with the anticipated proceeds of the will......but you can't seem ungrateful or unloving.

We do wakes at cost....from this weird idea that food service is just that......a service. When people are stuck needing food.....we should serve them.

So....I met with the folks. For an hour at the Store. Then proceeded up en masse to the house in Asoleado. A sun-scorched condo-cabin with an astroturf putting green laden with fox shit. Wow.

In the situation....there is only so much one can do. No kitchen, intense heat, no shade. Hydration, shade, and sweeping up the fox shit are number one. Food: simple soon as possible. Granny was raised on a sheep farm in Mendocino? Niman Ranch lamb.....not a problem.

Of course we already have a wedding that day.....but one can't leave the bereft in the lurch. Who else is going to do a lunch on a sun-fried mountain in Cachagua on a Saturday in June on ten days notice? We must serve the people.

We make the deal: lots of organic lemonade and jamaica tea; umbrellas for shade; Heller wine, since the house is staring at the vineyard across the Valley; the Niman Ranch lamb; Vicki to come and buff out the fox shit a day early; rentals and deliveries on Friday, so no one is all sweaty and worried; guests to park at the Store and get hydrated before shuttling up the hill. Did I mention that it has been 105 in Cachagua the last three days? Last year it was so hot at one wedding that the force of the sun's rays throught the wineglasses piled on the bar set the tablecloth on fire.......Well, 60-40 poly-cotton Visa material....but it melted the shit out of it. No matter....all is good, the deal is done. Thank you very much.

I got home at 1pm. Three and a half hours gone in the middle of a Saturday for a $2,000 wake at cost. Oh, well. No wall, no compost, no deck. I did plant cardoons.

Monday afternoon, I get a call from the sister who was not at the meeting. "We need to meet with you again. We have some questions. What about tomorrow?"

We have 100 reservations for dinner that night. It is 105. I have already blown off a day off and four hours for this thing. "No. Email me or we can talk on the phone. This isn't rocket science.... it is a buffet at cost.....we already have it all set. I am not coming in on my first day off in four months to talk about a party that is already booked. This is wedding season, and we already met for four hours. Sorry."

Crazy chick. What is this, Madonna's wedding? Is someone allergic to jamaica? Do I need to coordinate the color of the linens to the astroturf?

I order the rentals, and call the Ranch to have the lambs slaughtered.

So......we move to Thursday. Market Day. Appointments all day long: 10:15 doctor; noon, nice man with possible kitchen in town; 2pm rich lady in Pebble Beach with giant crazy house; 3pm Farmer's Market; 4pm Wharf for the last three wild salmon in Christendom; 6pm fix Granma's computer......Did I mention 5:45 pm bottle of Gruet from Rancho Cellars for Granma?

I check my email from Granma's: The crazy chick has fired us. "Good luck with your busy wedding season."

What? Now what do I do with the dead lambs? And the rentals I pried out of an angry German chick in the middle of "busy wedding season".

Am I depressed? Let's review:

Today I got the last three wild salmon caught in Monterey Bay....and they are beauties. I loaded them myself into the Jag. Crazy Dirk turned us on to a Moss Landing fisherman who only uses lines and hooks....and can get fresh sardines and halibut a week faster than the Wharf boys.

I got two colors of organic cherries from Fred Minniazoli, a case of beautiful peaches, a case of Ugly but delicious nectarines; and a box of apricots we spent twenty minutes arguing over......not about price, but about acidity vs. sugar, and texture. Fred is amped about getting special stuff next week for Johnny Depp. Oh, and his wife threw in a jar of hand-ground almond butter. For Johnny, not for me.....

I got a case of gorgeous, sweet organic asparagus from the most beautiful woman I have ever seen in any Farmer's Market anywhere, ever....and I used to shop in Paris. The check is made out to "Hog Farms". Ahhhh. There is a God of Irony, after all.......

Bob the Egg Man had fresh-picked loganberries, and carried my eggs to the car for me. Tom and Laurie Coke had ''French'' green beans....we joked about "Freedom" beans....and they had lemon basil. I will have the best, most fragrant basil oil on Planet Earth this weekend....and no one will know but me.

The artichoke guy and I reminisced about "Woolgrower's" in Los Banos, and bewailed the fact that no restaurant serves artichokes anymore.....too much labor. I told him the story about the tourists at Fernand's that ordered chokes....and ate the wrong end. I was too slammed to notice....but they came back the next night and ordered them again, goddamit.

Elsie the Apricot Lady and I joked about her being exiled to the grass, away from the Produce People....dried apricots aren't Produce, I guess. I promised to bring a pitching wedge and a soccer ball for her next week. The Old Goat from Corralitos snuck two beef sticks into the front seat of the Jag for my blood sugar attack.

The live plant guy from Paicines and I laughed and laughed about the time that I sicced Amanda on him to buy centerpieces for Laguna Seca.....she dragged him through all five acres of his place looking for flowers that "weren't angry".......

The Protea guy had neck surgery, and a nasty brace, but he got me the stuff for ten centerpieces and a beautiful bunch for Granma, complete with kangaroo paws....and we laughed about dogs. His Jack Russell is named Gomez....the best dog name in history. We almost named The Puppy "Gomez".......with permission, of course.

I left the market with enough white blood cells to start a lab.......

I finally dragged in at home at 7pm.

The Puppy waited.....I had to take him for a walk up the hill. Fuck. 100 degrees, hot, sticky....and exhausted.

We walked up to the outlook, and I collapsed into the old rocker. There was finally a fresh breeze off the ocean 15 miles away. The sun was still high over the Santa Lucia's to the south....but the air.....The air was alive.

As my brain finally slowed down, the image in front of me gained power. Dazzling golden light. Fresh, crisp, clean breeze.....laden with crushed deer mint and poison oak from the dogs

. I started counting the mountain ridges between me and the sea. First I found six. Then, as I looked more carefully I realized there were more and more....maybe thirteen or fourteen....tall, vicious, barely climbable ridges. I could not see a single sign of human habitation in the entire fifteen mile, ten billion dollar vista.

The light became beaten gold. I was literally stunned by the beauty and intransigence of what I was witnessing.

Eventually, I turned away....and in front of me was the Mount Toro vista to the north. Pastures of Heaven. Here the hills are more forgiving...but lay one upon the other like the folds in a Navaho blanket in a Georgia O'Keefe image. More beaten gold.....changing every second as the light moved.

So much of what we do in the kitchen is transitory and ephemeral. We struggle like warriors in the moment, grasping at seconds and split seconds with tools of fire and iron to transmit a vision of what we see.....folded into the social and practical forces that really rule our work world. Mostly only we see our little victories and our little masterpieces, and the craft and the realization is supposed to be enough. There is never enough money to pay for the stress, pain and labor it takes to get to that place.....

Why do we do it?

My favorite Jerry Jeff Walker song:

"Why do you ride for the money?
Why do you rope for short pay?
You ain't gettin' nowhere,
And you're losing your share........
Son, you must have gone crazy out there.....

"But she ain't never seen the Northern Lights....
Never heard the hawk on the wing...
Never seen the Spring hit the Great Divide....
And she's never heard old Camp Cookie sing......"

Ol' Camp Cookie would trade thirty years of hard labor for that sunset tonight.....

Wait....I guess I already did! Damn!

Thanks to Whomever....That was a nice day.......

If only I could sing.......


Blogger Tana Butler said...

I gotta come meet you some day.


10:41 AM  

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